The Wall Drill

The wall drill, written by University of Colorado clarinet professor Daniel Silver, is wonderful for developing more ease in our playing.

Here's how.

Click here for general posture guidelines

Click here for clarinet-specific posture guidelines

General guidelines, to be done at first without the instrument:

-Find a clear section of the wall or a flat door

-Place your heels 6-12 inches away from wall with your back to the wall.

-Be sure your knees are slightly bent—that is, not locked.

-Along with allowing the knees to bend, allow your butt to sink down a bit so that the hips drop and you feel the lean against the wall.

Note: The farther away from the wall you are, the more you will need to use your thigh muscles to support yourself. Up to a point, this increased distance may be worth trying to feel the stability of your torso, but it varies from person to person. In general, the closer you stand to the wall, the easier it is to do the drill without fatigue in your legs, but the harder it is to feel the length and ease in the torso. If in doubt, mix it up a little in terms of how far from the wall you place your heels.

1. Feel your butt against the wall, and your shoulder blades against the wall. You should feel a little as if you are about to sit down on a bar stool, that is, allowing your bottom to sort of ease down and let go, at which point it sinks back into the wall a little more.

Use your butt and your upper back as checkpoints to feel weighted back against the wall. Sometimes I will ask a student to slowly lean their head back until it touches the wall as well, noting that this position (with the rearmost protrusion of the skull touching the wall) is NOT where our head should be! Rarely do clarinet players have their head too far back in relation to the spine, but almost always it is too far forward and down.

Once you have felt the wall on the back of your head, slowly come forward until the head feels balanced and the neck relaxed and free. Doing a little bit of a “bobblehead” motion (as though your neck was a spring coil on top of which your head is freely balancing) may also be helpful.

2. A good key is to feel that from your butt to your upper back you are at ease and you feel supported by the wall. This feeling is a wonderful orientation for your torso—it keeps your torso long and and promotes deep breaths and reduced tension.

3. Without your instrument, do some deep breathing. You can try any breathing exercises you know in this wall position. It is useful to do some breathing with the bell of the clarinet in your mouth (yes—put it in your mouth so your lips are all the way around it!) or the barrel, and notice how flowing and full the inhalations are.

Of course, in this drill, there is virtually no resistance on the exhalations either.

4. Without the clarinet, place one hand on your belly and one hand on your upper chest (palms on body). As you inhale, allow the upper chest and the “stomach” to expand easily and fully as you inhale.

5. When your legs get tired, or if you feel you need to loosen up at any point, simply stand up and shake things out a bit

6. When you are more or less comfortable, take the clarinet to this wall position and play anything you wish. Be very attentive to the feeling of the full length of the torso leaning back against the wall, keeping its length, and note how the lean on the wall promotes ease in your torso. It is almost impossible to pull your shoulders away from the wall, or compress the neck and head forward and down while you are doing the wall drill, and this is one reason it is so valuable.

7. After playing for a short time against the wall, and paying attention to the feeling in your body and the way you breathe and sound, capitalize on the learning by moving away from the wall (you may stand or sit) and retaining as much as you can of the long and free torso feeling you get from the wall. This is a great opportunity in your practice—I call these “moments of truth,” where you get extra benefit if you attempt to transfer the ease of the wall work to your non-wall efforts.

8. Trust the discipline of this drill. If you have typical tension problems in the torso, neck, etc., you may feel rather odd doing this drill at first (thought in almost every instance, players can sense the freedom and increased resonance in their sounds). If you do it a few minutes a day, and even increase the time you play and practice it as you get used to it, you will be more and more aware of why it is useful, and begin to replace old habits with new.